Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race: Laurence Pithie narrowly beats Natnael Tesfatsion in sprint

Natnael Tesfatsion has to settle for second as Georg Zimmermann rounds out the top three

Clock04:35, Sunday 28th January 2024
Pithie edged to the win in a photo finish

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Pithie edged to the win in a photo finish

Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) claimed his first WorldTour victory at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race after edging out EF Education-EasyPost’s Natnael Tesfatsion in a close sprint finish, with Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Wanty) taking third.

The New Zealander proved to be the strongest in the sprint to the line from a small 12-man group which had broken away on the final ascent of Challambra Crescent.

There was some uncertainty after the finish as riders waited for photos of the finish but they showed that the 21-year-old had clearly secured the win by half a wheel in the absence of the biggest sprint names, most of whom were dropped inside the final 10km.

With a mix of riders making the final selection, it wasn't certain to finish in a sprint with some riders chancing their luck at solo breakaways, including Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech), but in the end the victory was contested by the fastest remaining finishers, with Pithie coming out on top.

“I got stuck about one kilometre to go, stuck behind. Corbin [Strong] was calling my bluff a little bit, he wanted me to go in front of him to chase Stevie [Williams]," Pithie said after the race, talking through the final kilometres. "I knew I had to be patient. We spoke in the briefing this morning, patience was going to be key.

“It was just going balls to the walls, full gas. I was coming back at him, coming back at him, had to close the gap," he continued, explaining how he caught Tesfatsion in the sprint to the line. "The Intermarché rider on the outside, he was coming quick, but I just managed to hold on in the lunge."

The win adds to Pithie's only other pro victory, taken at Cholet-Pays de la Loire last season, and is his first at WorldTour level.

Challambra Crescent climb proves to be decisive

Like previous years, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race served up another edition that finished with a tough finishing circuit around the streets of Geelong. This year riders tackled four laps of the circuit, covering the final 68km, and it was over these laps that the race was expected to be decided. More often than not this has been through a reduced bunch sprint but the Challambra Crescent climb, which riders tackled on each lap, has occasionally provided a launch pad for successful late attacks.

Out of all of the potential outcomes, a breakaway victory was one of the most unlikely, so it was no surprise when Joshua Cranage, Dylan Proctor-Parker (both ARA Skip Capital) and Jackson Medway (Team BridgeLane) were allowed to roll off the front of the bunch with minimum fuss to form the days’ breakaway. Zac Marriage then bridged across to create an even split of ARA and BridgeLane riders.

Far from settling for a mundane day of working together before succumbing to the peloton, the all-Australian breakaway wanted to race and things ignited at the first intermediate sprint. Tackled with over 110km remaining, ARA Skip Capital saw it as an opportunity to launch an early surprise attack through Cranage. That backfired when Medway countered to take the maximum sprint points and, more importantly, fly solo up the road. His attack was so strong that the 19-year-old soon found himself over a minute ahead of his former breakaway companions and with the dilemma of whether to continue solo or regroup. Buoyed by his advantage, Medway continued his effort, while behind Cranage took second at the sprint and Marriage third.

In the end, Medway’s solo raid only lasted another 20km when, having secured maximum points at the second intermediate sprint, he decided to wait up for the chasers. Those chasers were led over the intermediate sprint by Marriage who edged out Cranage for second.

Things were much more mundane back in the peloton where Israel-Premier Tech had controlled proceedings for the first 100km. There was a brief lull to the calm when Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich PostNL), a name many had on their favourites list, was forced to abandon after crashing at the back of the peloton.

Despite the relative calm in the peloton, the breakaway’s lead had been cut to a little under three minutes as they started the first of four laps of the finishing circuit, having peaked at five minutes when Medway initially attacked.

That was down to two after the first ascent of Challambra Crescent where the breakaway started to crumble apart, with teammates Medway and Marriage dropping their ARA rivals.

Behind Astana Qazaqstan and Ineos-Grenadiers took to the front of the peloton as the intensity and nerves heightened. Those efforts led to the capture of Cranage and Dylan Proctor-Parker, but the leading duo’s advantage stubbornly held at a couple of minutes over the second ascent of Challambra. Marriage was allowed to take the maximum KOM points, while the peloton began to string out behind as Lidl-Trek became the latest team to take up the slack at the front.

The pressure soon told and the duo were caught immediately after they crested the climb for the penultimate time, with Marriage securing the KOM title. It was also telling for the peloton too which became strung out under the American team’s pressure, before they changed tact by launching Bauke Mollema up the road. Juan Pedro López followed that up with a counterattack after his teammate was caught as EF Education attempted to rip up the race script.

That effort proved to be short lived but it led to chaos at the front of the peloton with no one willing to control proceedings, although things settled down as Challambra honed into view for the final time. As was expected, the final time up the climb proved to be decisive when, spurred on by Israel-Premier Tech, a group of 12 riders forged what proved to be a decisive gap - importantly, most of the main sprinters had missed out.

With little threat behind, riders started chancing their luck by launching solo attacks, including Quinn Simmons (EF Education-EasyPost) and Williams, but neither were able to hold on. It was left to the fastest finishers to decide the race and Pithie left it late to surge around Tesfatsion, although he almost suffered the same fate as the fast-finishing Zimmermann left his kick too late and had to settle for third.

Race Results

1

nz flag

PITHIE Laurence

Groupama-FDJ

4H 17' 40"

2

er flag

TESFAZION Natnael

Lidl-Trek

"

3

de flag

ZIMMERMANN Georg

Intermarché-Wanty

"

4

nz flag

STRONG Corbin

Israel-Premier Tech

"

5

ec flag

NARVAEZ Jhonnatan

INEOS Grenadiers

"

6

fr flag

MARIAULT Axel

Cofidis

"

7

au flag

HAMILTON Chris

Team dsm-firmenich PostNL

"

8

it flag

SCARONI Cristian

Astana Qazaqstan Team

"

9

de flag

RUTSCH Jonas

EF Education-EasyPost

"

10

fr flag

BARRÉ Louis

ARKEA-B&B HOTELS

"

Provided by FirstCycling

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